I love pens and pencils. I have loved them all my life. Whenever and wherever I travel, I buy pens and pencils. I am not a pen or a pencil snob. I buy them in supermarkets and street stalls as well as every sort of stationery store. I don’t need to go to a Mont Blanc store or own a limited edition Tiffany’s pen.
To tell you the truth, I don’t need to own any more pens. I have a drawer full of pens. Ballpoint pens, roller ball pens, fountain pens. I also have a drawer full or pencils. All sorts of pencils. Short pencils, long pencils, carpenter’s pencils, charcoal pencils. I even have pencils inscribed as Dixon Beginner’s. They are black and thicker than regular pencils.
Having all these pens and pencils doesn’t prevent me from wanting more pencils and pens. I covet other people’s pencils in the same way that others might covet a friend or neighbor’s house or car or husband.
My lust for pens and pencils started when I was a child. My parents and I were refugees to Australia. My parents were a rare statistic. Two Jews who were married to each other before the war and who each survived Nazi death camps.
In Australia, we lived in one room before moving to a very small cottage. I looked at the fountain pens in a news agency, a block and a half away from our small cottage, for over two years before, one day, in a moment of great need and possible recklessness, I stole one. I wasn’t caught. I guarded that fountain pen as though it was Elizabeth Taylor’s Krupp diamond.
I have written all of my books by hand. I know exactly which pens and pencils I used for each of my books. I do the actual writing with pens. For the last few years I have used a Pilot G-2 07 retractable gel ink roller ball pen. Always with black ink. I never write in any other color. In pencil, I circle and draw arrows around whatever parts of my text I want to move or change. For my latest novel, Lola Bensky, I used emerald green Criterium pencils, made in France. I bought them in a tiny, almost hole-in-the-wall, stationery store in a small, mountain town 170 miles north of Mexico City. They were so enticing and so cheap. I bought twenty-five of them.
As soon as I pick up a pencil or a pen, a sense of calm comes over me. I feel that that pen or pencil is directly connected to my core, to my heart, my lungs, my arteries. Nothing separates us. Of course I type on a computer and an iPad and a smartphone. And I take great care with my sentences on each of those devices. Too much care – who needs to search for commas or apostrophes when you’re typing with one or two fingers. And I do love keyboards. And the sounds they make. But they are not connected to me in the same way as a pen or pencil.
I was recently in Seattle. I went into a huge Rite Aid store. We don’t have supersized Rite Aid stores in my part of Manhattan. I always think I love big stores. That is until I am actually inside one. After five minutes of feeling lost and disoriented in a seemingly endless aisle, I left. I did leave with a bag of ten dark yellow, eraser-topped pencils. Paid for, of course.